Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Connecting texts

To date this summer -- or what qualifies for summer around here -- I have spent an unseemly amount of time reading. Professional books, adult fiction and nonfiction, young-adult and middle-grade texts, the occasional graphic novel. My June reading ladder, arranged in rungs from hardest to easiest, would look like the image at right. This slice is about how two in-process reads I'm juggling collided yesterday.

I'm about 200 pages into The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. That novel's intimidating heft had been shelf squatting for a year or more despite a friend's recommendation that had sparked me to buy a second-hand copy in the first place. I finally dove in last week after seeing a trailer for its movie adaptation due this September.

One of its blurbs calls The Goldfinch "Dickensian," and I do hear echoes of Pip from Great Expectations in the suddenly orphaned Theo's tenuous life just starting to open into strange, new opportunities. I also see fun-house reflections of To Kill a Mockingbird, thanks probably to Theo as grown-up narrator looking back with heightened awareness (and vocabulary) on his childhood. One evident difference: The Goldfinch is so far set in New York's bustling cityscape, little like Maycomb's small-town South.

Meantime, I'm also reading 180 Days by Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, about how these two educators plan and carry out a year of teaching together at their respective schools on each side of the country. One passage sparked for me. In it, Gallagher and Kittle unpack the focus of a lesson that aims to "show students the questions we ask as we encounter confusion with a book we pick up for the first time." Why does this matter? The co-authors explain:
We model why reading is hard at the start of any book. Students who frequently abandon books are often stuck in this hard place. They struggle with ambiguity. They find reading confusing because they never get past the work required to enter a book. It helps students understand why a reader must focus attention more closely in the beginning. (51-52)
Their words neatly sum up where I've been in The Goldfinch, swimming in ambiguity, just starting to see the characters and how they connect, puzzling over where the tale may turn next, making predictions of shaky accuracy.

Writing this blog helps me realize the many layers of reading experiences, the many readerly moves, that underpin my time with this latest text. That realization reminds me of a third piece of reading in which I'm dabbling -- an online sequence from the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators, in preparation for a formal workshop next month. This introduction's look at dyslexic brains has me wondering about the story of how my own brain has been wired in a way that has me bellied up to this summer's reading banquet.

7 comments:

  1. We were lucky to have Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle come and present to middle school teachers a few years ago. I might need to revisit 180 Days beofre I go back in September.

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  2. I like how you shared your weaving thoughts produced by the 2 books. Thanks for the Reading Ladder image, too. I just finished both of Colleen Cruz' books: Writers Read Better: Nonfiction and Writers Read Better: Narrative. I highly recommend, if you have room this summer on your ladder!

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    1. Thanks for recommendation, Sally. I'll add those Cruz titles to my to-read list.

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  3. Brian, it is always so fun to see what you are up to these summer days. The reading ladder image is a good one to reflect upon-from easy to hard. I paused to wonder why I abandon books. Often times, it is because of time but there are those times when I don't bond with characters or find the text not engaging. Enjoy your time off.

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    1. Sounds like fruitful wondering, Carol. Thanks for stopping by! In my book, abandonment has a place in every reader's bag of tricks. However, when it's the *leading* trick, then intervention is likely warranted as a certain Pernille Ripp describes: https://pernillesripp.com/2018/10/04/when-they-abandon-every-single-book/

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  4. I love seeing your reading ladder. i'm reading Bad Blood for one of my book clubs and I keep getting lost because I can't keep all the people straight. I'm flooded with books I want to read - three for book clubs, one NF I've checked out of the library twice (Habit Stacking) and must get to this time, Cathy Guisewite's Fifty Things that Aren't My Fault, We Are the Change, and A Velocity of Being. Now to find the time to luxuriate in each of them before they're due back at the library!

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  5. Oh, my, how I connected directly with this post, as I started to read Goldfinch a couple of years ago...and abandoned it, sixty pages in, the long descriptive paragraphs moving too slowly for me to place value on the effort. Your post has me thinking otherwise, now. Thanks for the moment of introspection!

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